NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON -- Manfred "Fred" Ehrich, a longtime local attorney and former state legislator who died Tuesday at the age of 97, was remembered by those who knew him.
Bennington Select Board member Jason Morrissey, an attorney, said he purchased the building that previously housed Ehrich's law practice in 2008. Morrissey said Ehrich was the type of person who deserved immediate respect.
"I never once in all the time I knew him called him Fred. It was always Mr. Ehrich -- not because he was stuffy; he just kind of had that level of respect from me immediately," Morrissey recalled. "He served his community very well. When you think about all the things he did in his life, that's a very significant contribution. It's a great loss for the Bennington area."
The building included a partner's desk that was first used in a New York City law firm 110 years ago, according to Morrissey. Also included was a quirky safe that required special knowledge to open.
"He showed it to me a dozen times at least. He always said, ‘Get over here and make sure you know how to open it up,'" Morrissey said.
But Morrissey said he was forced to call upon Ehrich's knowledge shortly after purchasing the building. It happened to be on Ehrich's 93rd birthday. "I think he just wanted to get out of the house so he said, ‘I'll take a ride down to the office with you,'" Morrissey said. "The guy's 93, but he gets down on bent knee and he gives me a, ‘Now, pay attention this time kind of look.'"
Local attorneys recall Ehrich as a skilled and tenacious lawyer.
"He had reputation of being a very tough attorney. He did a lot of personal injury work. As lawyers, we talk about our profession, and when people reminisce they remember that he was a fair but very tough attorney," Morrissey said.
Ehrich, known for his red suspenders in campaign advertisements, also served in the Vermont Legislature as a Republican senator from Bennington County for two consecutive terms. He was first elected in 1994, defeating incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary Ann Carlson of Arlington. Ehrich ran on the slogan, "I'll listen."
Current Bennington County Sen. Dick Sears, a Democrat, said lawmakers on both sides of the aisle enjoyed working with Ehrich.
"Fred was delightful to work with. We disagreed on a lot of issues; he was certainly a Republican, but he was certainly a character in the best sense of the word and did his best to represent the people," Sears said. "It was really a pleasure to work with him."
Ehrich's personality fit well in the Legislature. "He had the good old Vermont sayings and played the role of a country lawyer very well," Sears said.
Sears said Ehrich's sharp, dry wit was also appreciated. "A constituent once asked Fred why he voted for a certain bill and Fred said, ‘Well, I had my hearing aid off during the debate.' That was typical Fred," Sears said. "He had a terrific sense of humor. I'll remember that one."
Bennington Town Clerk Timothy Corcoran, a former state representative, said Ehrich was known as a "very conservative" lawmaker. "He voted his conscience and he didn't worry about the political impact," Corcoran said. "He didn't care if it was 29 to 1, but that's the way he voted."
But fellow lawmakers knew Ehrich to be "a good man."
"I know when he came to a conclusion on something he did so from his conscience. It wasn't about an election," Corcoran said. "He had strong character. A lot of people disagreed with his voting record, but people knew when they sent him to the Vermont State Senate that that was how he was going to vote."
Ehrich was born in New York on Nov. 2, 1914. He studied at the Taft School and Yale University and trained to become a lawyer. He served in the field artillery corps during World War II, and again during the Korean War.
Ehrich, in an interview with the Banner, said he first thought of moving to Vermont during an ROTC training camp. "I fell in love with this state on my first visit," he said at the time. "When my first wife came here to look at houses, she fell for Vermont, too."
Ehrich moved to Arlington in 1945 and began a required clerkship to practice law in the state of Vermont. He also began teaching at Burr and Burton Academy while working to complete his legal clerkship on a part-time basis.
In 1955, Ehrich successfully argued the plaintiff's case in Bernhardt v. Polygraphic before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ehrich moved to Bennington in 1971 with his late wife Elaine. They had four children, a daughter and three sons, one of whom was the late Terry Ehrich, publisher of the Hemmings Motor News and founder of the First Day Foundation.
Ehrich was also a surveyor, and surveyed large swaths of Arlington and Sandgate.